11/19/2021, 09.13
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Expedition studies the sunken monastery of St. Paisius

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Flooded in the Volga by the Soviets to build a large hydroelectric station. It has a glorious history. Father Paisij's great role in the reconstruction of Russia. An eventual discovery seen as a sign of the new Orthodox rebirth in the country.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Underwater expeditions are underway to verify the condition of the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God of St. Paisij, an ancient shrine submerged 100 years ago by the Soviets in the Volga River to build a large hydroelectric station.

The exploration is organized by the Regional Department of Economic Development of the Jaroslavl region in northern European Russia, with the blessing of Feoktist (Igumnov), local bishop of Pereslavl and Uglič.

The expedition which began on Nov. 15,  is being conducted by professional divers, civil defense members and a group of historians. The Soviets finished the hydroelectric plant in the late 1930s under Stalin, under whom the destruction of ancient churches was a program of "demonstrative atheization." The complex was built using parts of the same monastery buildings, dismantling some of the walls. For the first time since the creation of the Uglič reservoir, there is a desire to discover what has remained underwater all this time.

The monastery has a glorious history, dating back to its foundation in the mid-15th century by the monk Paisij, sent by his uncle and spiritual father Makarij of Kaljazin, whose monastery was also sunk by the Soviets (the bell tower still emerges from the waters). The monastery of Paisij was one of the first stone buildings in the city of Uglič, one of the most important spiritual centers of Russia, which was reborn after the "Tatar yoke" of two centuries thanks to the monastic evangelization of the north. Its central church could accommodate over 2 thousand worshippers, and on its walls were several frescoes by the famous iconographer Andrei Rublev.

The monastery of Pokrov (Protection) had ended up in the midst of the "Times of Troubles" of the early 1600s, with the invasions of the Poles and the "fake-zars" in the power vacuum after the period of Ivan the Terrible. Its reconstruction after the clashes, in which over 60 monks lost their lives, again marked a rebirth of Orthodox Russia during the first patriarchal century. It was one of the most important sanctuaries and rich in monastic vocations, with a great impulse to the formation not only of monks, but also to the education of the people.

The director of the expedition, Dmitry Širgaev, is known for organizing in the Upper Volga area a large eco-park called "Legends of the Forest". He emphasized that the idea of studying the sunken monastery came after a collective study of the history of the Uglič territory, in order to pass on the memory to future generations. In his opinion, "the spiritual influence of the monastery was enormous, and one cannot forget the great role of Father Paisij in the reconstruction of the whole country."

There have long been many legends about the actual preservation of the monastery's remains. Some believe that nothing has been saved; for others there are still the walls of the main church. Others claim that every now and then you can still hear the sounds of the ancient bell tower, originally 30 meters high. Mystery also surrounds the relics of St. Paisij, which may have been preserved in the underwater ruins of the monastery.

One of the oldest experts on the history of the area, Viktor Erokhin, a resident of Uglič, has made available many topographical maps with plans of the monastery before its destruction, along with photographs and other documents. In his opinion, at least the foundations and various architectural elements should be found: "We hope to find one of the beautiful golden crosses, it would be a sign of the new revival of the Orthodox faith in our country".

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